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Health A-Z

Medical Content Created by the Faculty of the
Harvard Medical School

Diagnosis

Occasionally, a doctor may find signs of early stage ovarian cancer (before the abnormal cells have spread beyond the ovary. For example, the ovary may feel firm and enlarged. A pelvic ultrasound may help diagnose the disease at an early stage. (Ultrasound uses sound waves to create pictures of organs and other structures.) However, the ovaries often look normal in the early stages of disease.

Computed tomography (CT) scans and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may help identify a misshapen or enlarged ovary—or show other features that may point to cancer.

The CA-125 blood test can help to confirm ovarian cancer. Women with ovarian cancer often have high levels of the CA-125 protein. The usefulness of this test is limited, however, because noncancerous conditions can also raise CA-125 levels.

The only way to be certain that cancer is present is to have a biopsy. During this test, your doctor removes a small piece of ovarian tissue. He or she then looks at it under a microscope to see if there are cancerous changes.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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